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Book Review: “Tough Things First,” by Ray Zinn

Book Review: “Tough Things First,” by Ray Zinn

It seems that every day there is another expert offering advice. Often the expert is in the midst of his or her career, but Tough Things First is an accumulation of knowledge from the author's entire career. Ray Zinn was CEO of Micrel for 37 years. Micrel makes microchips, but is known for being an upstanding company that believes in its employees, includes altruism as part of the company’s mission, and does not differentiate between personal and corporate ethics. These are some of the truths that have been tested throughout Zinn’s career at Micrel up until his retirement this past August.

​Zinn has guided his company through the “mad men” era and the dotcom boom. Now, Micrel is still standing, profitable, and a stronger company with wiser policies for having survived. He attributes his success to keeping his employees happy. Zinn believes without general happiness nothing can get done, personally or in business. He mentions the nation of Bhutan, which measures its gross national happiness rather than its gross national product. Several chapters also dig into corporate policies, finances, growth creation, and management. 

Growing employees’ happiness rather than your own bank account may sound surprising from a Silicon Valley CEO, but it is spelled out quite clearly. According to the book, a common mindset of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is to expect instant monetary gratification from building companies that may not necessarily be built to last. Tough Things First explains the downfall of this mentality, and gives examples of why some companies and entrepreneurs fail. The book continues to discuss the qualities that are needed to make a successful entrepreneur. 

Zinn talks about the importance of authentic communication. He says people tend to only remember ten percent of what they read so he summarizes important points at the end of each chapter. It is a well-written book that is helpful to entrepreneurs, as well as to anyone else who seeks enduring success in business or in life.

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